These are probably some of the most tear jerking, hart warming, affirming, and inspiring words spoken in a movie.
Last week I watched the 1999 movie The Iron Giant with my kiddos for our family movie night. I don’t know how this movie slipped under the radar for me. Of course, it came out in the summer of ’99 in between my second junior year and first senior year in college (long story). I had been teaching English in Hungary and Ukraine for the summer. Apparently I missed a number of movies that came out that summer. But this one I should have known about.
(attention, spoilers ahead)
The Iron Giant takes place in October of 1957 in a small town in Maine. The Soviet Union had just launched the satellite Sputnik, the first of the Cold War nations to send something orbiting space. The movie opens with something huge hurtling through Earth’s atmosphere and landing in the ocean. Like usual in small towns, it’s talked about, it’s discussed, and it’s also then tossed aside as some ramblings of a drunk sailor. But in truth, it’s a giant iron robot from who-knows-where that begins tramping through the woods north of town.
A young fatherless 9 year-old boy named Hogarth comes across the Iron Giant (his name for the big huge robot) and befriends him. He teaches him what it means to be a person. To have fun. To be gentle.
And then the government begins to investigate claims of something going on. It’s the Red Scare. The agent sent, Agent Mansley, is overly suspicious of what’s going on and constantly is interrogating Hogarth on the whereabouts of the Iron Giant.
Hogarth is also befriended by a local “beatnik” artist/junk yard owner named Dean. Dean fills the father role that Hogarth needs. Dean also lets the Iron Giant to stay in the junk yard
There’s a touching scene where Hogarth is showing the Iron Giant various comics. One is about a giant robot from outer space hell bent on destroying Earth. The other is of Superman. The Iron Giant likes Superman better, so much so that it even finds a giant “S” and puts it on its chest. It idolizes Superman because he fights for others, puts others first, and is willing to do what is right.
Soon we learn that the Iron Giant is a huge weapon who responds to threats defensively with huge cannons coming out of its chest and arms. This scares Dean and Hogarth and the Iron Giant. Hogarth tells the Iron Giant what Dean told him. The Iron Giant’s identity isn’t in what he was made for but who he chooses to be. Hogarth chooses to be a friend to the Iron Giant. The Iron Giant tries to be good.
And then it happens. The military comes when Agent Mansley gets proof of the Iron Giant. The military, in traditional space invader movie fashion, start attacking the Iron Giant. The Iron Giant responds with more kick butt weaponry. And then it happens, it escalates to a nuclear missile being launched on the town to destroy the Iron Giant. The whole down is doomed. The Iron Giant is on a rampage, firing at and destroying the military who is attacking it. And then Hogarth steps in. He calms down the Iron Giant. He tells the Iron Giant that the town is in danger. The Iron Giant sees this, sees the nuke coming down, and launches upward towards the nuke.
As it is flying toward the nuke in a classic Superman flying pose, we hear it remember the words of Hogarth, its identity isn’t in what it was made to do, but who it chooses to be. And then the Iron Giant says “Superman” as he comes in contact with the nuke. Laying down its life to save the people of this small town in Maine.
One of the trade marks in Sci-Fi in determining if something is a sentient being is the beings willingness of self-sacrifice. When a creature is willing to selflessly lay down its life for someone else, no matter how cruel that someone else was to them, they show their true sentience, their ability to have a soul.
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:12-13
The Iron Giant showed its ability to love, showed its soul, as it laid down its life for others.
But more than that. It understood its identity wasn’t in what it was made for–destruction, war, domination, we don’t know–but what it chose to be like.
“If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old is gone, the new is here!” 2 Corinthians 5:17
We can choose our identity. We can have our identity be all the things we’ve done in the past. Our identity can be our make up, our skin color, our orientation, or it can be in Jesus. It can be in something more and bigger than ourselves.
In Jesus there is a new identity. An identity that is willing to be self sacrificing. An identity that is willing to look past the old life, the old self, and have a new identity that defines us.
The Iron Giant didn’t change from being iron, a giant, or a weapon. Yet it chose not to do those things. Instead it chose to lay down its life to save a town, to save a military attacking it, and most importantly of all, to even save Agent Manley who had been hunting it down and trying to destroy it.
What is your identity? Who are you? Is your identity in what you’ve done, in what you’ve done right, in what you’ve done wrong? Or could you have a greater identity in Jesus?